Updated: Aug 2
Confiscated parrots in Honduras, shortly after their poachers were captured.
In 2014 we documented that 100% of our scarlet macaw nests were poached in the indigenous parrot core conservation area of La Moskitia, Honduras. By 2016 and 2017, the growing competency of the parrot rangers there had amazing results — only one nest was poached and those chicks were later recovered and liberated. We were starting to feel pretty good about our ability to save these birds. But then came 2018, and buyers of parrot eggs for the illegal wildlife trade started stalking our area. First it began as rumors that people from China or Taiwan were in our border communities along the Coco River that separates Honduras from Nicaragua, asking for people to bring them eggs. Then our nests were being climbed in January and February, when normally the poachers waited until May to take chicks. We were in shock that the international demand for parrots had come from so far away to take what was ours to make it theirs.
Over the next few years, we had our rangers working earlier in the reproduction period to protect nests from the egg robbers, and we worked with the authorities to try and capture the buyers. We were unsuccessful and so we contacted the international community to help investigate and hopefully catch the perpetrators. We learned that the buyers were centered in Managua where the eggs would go. We also discovered that eggs were being bought in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Paraguay.
Three scarlet macaw chicks in a wild nest in our area. It is rare that 3 chicks survive to this age, as usually the third chick dies younger than these who are 4-5.5 weeks of age. The parents did an excellent job of raising these chicks.
We currently hold our poaching rate to about 15%, but it takes a lot of people in the field traversing a very large area — in some years up to 1.1 million acres, and it is not without risk.
Santiago, our Project Coordinator, had an attempt against his life last year. He survived with no injuries, though our project truck got shot up. We don’t know if the assassins were the egg poachers targeting him, or those who are engaging in illegal and corrupt timber extraction and land acquisition. Against such overwhelming odds, some days it seems like the saving of these people, parrots, and forests will ultimately fail, and it is dispiriting.
In mid-May of 2023, I learned that one of the Asian buyers was caught in Miami with a suitcase full of yellow-naped and red-lored amazon eggs. He almost made it onto the plane to Taiwan but the chirping of a hatching chick alerted the authorities and he was apprehended. He currently is imprisoned in Miami, as were the birds he stole and sought to traffic. The parrots are well, having been cared for by Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RARE) since hatching and now by SoCal Parrot who will hold them until the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service can figure out how to move them to their home range so they can someday fly free. Repatriating confiscated parrots has never been done by the USFWS, but they are taking steps so that the birds can return from whence they came. The birds could even come home to us in Honduras.
Just a few days after learning about the capture of the egg smuggler, the military in Puerto Lempira, the nearest town to our conservation area in Honduras, caught two of the most notorious poachers in our area who are responsible for many of the stolen chicks. One Scarlet Macaw and several smaller parrots were confiscated and are now at our rescue center. The next day the military confiscated two more yellow- naped amazon chicks from a different group of people.
Authorities delivering the confiscated chicks to our Rescue Center.
There was some glee with these successful confiscations after years of no progress in pressuring poachers to stop, but the pair of poachers were released after only a few days and two of the Amazons were severely injured. Each had both of their legs broken, and one had a broken back. These kinds of injuries occur when the poachers don’t climb the trees to take chicks, but instead cut the tree down, and hope that the trauma doesn’t kill the chicks. Despite our care, one of the two grievously harmed chicks did not survive.
The wildlife trade causes so much harm, and not just to the chicks. The parents are attached to their young and you can hear how their calls change when they discover the chicks missing from their cavities, or their nest tree lying in ruin on the ground. The parents love their eggs and chicks, and go to incredible lengths to care for them, often for naught.
Confiscated yellow-naped amazons, including the two with broken bones, being accepted at our Rescue and Liberation Center.
In conservation, there is so much suffering and heartache, and so much care and protection. The weeks are full of impossible achievements and hopeless loss. But there is never a day without beauty, and without love. And so, we feel compelled to give back what was never ours, so freedom belongs to everyone in a home of their choosing. Thus, conservation is the art of reparations, and in our case, putting the parrots back so they can thrive in numbers and health that is conducive to the well-being of all of us.
If you’d like to be part of helping to stop the parrot trade and making amends to the tragedy of parrot captivity, please join us at One Earth Conservation https://www.oneearthconservation.org/ or Foster Parrots https://www.fosterparrots.com/, or check out our new activist collaboration, the International Alliance for the Protection of Parrots https://www.allianceforparrots.org/ (website now under construction!)